The boom in US oil and gas production due to fracking spurred the explosion in water use and wastewater in basins where the extraction is occurring—and the industry is trying to keep up with the waste. Now the Trump EPA is weighing an end to the oil and gas wastewater ban so that it can be treated and discharged into nearby streams and rivers, potentially contaminating community water sources.
The Trump administration is seeking lower cost solutions for wastewater disposal or reuse for their friends in the oil and gas industry. In shale plays like Texas’s Permian Basin, for instance, wastewater is typically disposed of via deep well injections, but many wells are at capacity and risk earthquakes and aquifer pollution. California faces its own oil wastewater disposal challenges. The Golden State is one of the few that allows drillers to dump waste into open holding ponds, which can leak into groundwater and pollute the air. This is a major concern since the ponds are located in the Central Valley, the heart of state farm activity, and the practice raises the specter that toxic oil wastewater could contaminate irrigation water.
The Trump EPA wants to give the oil and gas industry cheap ways to rid themselves of waste while simultaneously giving farmers and drinking water suppliers new streams of freshwater. That is a risky proposal considering there are few studies showing the safety of such oil and gas wastewater reuse, and the technology might not yet be effective.
Summer 2019 is the anticipated time for an EPA decision.